A baby with big, blue eyes, Hudson Ellis stole a lot of hearts in eight months.
His parents, Josh and Vanessa, were a goofy, fun couple with a lot of love.
Even so, the youth pastors at the Bonney Lake-area Eastpointe Church were turned down for the first jobs they applied for there. The Rev. James Ludlow chose a different couple instead.
Which is why Ludlow was surprised the Ellises wanted to join the church anyway. They told him they liked the group so much that they wanted to stick around.
“We’re coming whether you like it or not,” he remembered them saying.
A year later, when the church needed youth pastors, the choice was obvious, Ludlow said. The Ellises were already a hit with the kids.
“It was like little magnets following them around,” he said.
The family of three died April 13 in Bonney Lake when a slab of concrete fell from a state Route 410 overpass onto their pickup as they drove on Angeline Road and construction crews worked above.
Vanessa was 29. Josh was 25. Hudson was 8 months.
Hundreds gathered Monday night at Puyallup Foursquare Church to celebrate their lives.
“If we cry and don’t laugh, Josh and Vanessa are going to come down here and kick some booty,” Ludlow told the crowd.
He offered his own family Ellis story: He said he tried and tried to sneak Hudson ice cream, but Vanessa always caught him. When he finally had frozen yogurt and her blessing, the kid spit it right back out.
A photo montage showed Hudson’s ultrasound, his father playing guitar with him and him resting his head on his mother’s chest.
There was a young Vanessa, curled up inside a laundry dryer. A shot presumably of Josh wearing a deer mask. Wedding photos.
Tim Forthun, the Skagit County pastor who married the couple, told those gathered that he was one of the first to know they’d fallen for each other.
“I know I’m a youth pastor and he’s a youth member,” he remembered Vanessa saying, “but we’re in love.”
“Ayayayayay,” Eastpointe pastor Sue Christianson said when she took the stage, imitating a frequent exclamation of Vanessa’s.
At church staff meetings, she said, Vanessa would come up with great ideas that were sometimes infuriating because of how much work they required.
Still, Christianson said, she was incredibly grateful for the last one: a suggestion that they do Easter photos for the church’s families.
The one taken that day of the Ellis clan, posed against a brick backdrop, has been widely circulated since the accident. Even the baby is smiling, his mouth wide open. A classic Hudson move.
Shane and Kayla Lance got the jobs the Ellises initially applied for at Eastpointe. They said they prayed for a couple to be close friends with, and found Josh and Vanessa.
Kayla Lance told the crowd the Ellises were “hysterically inappropriate.” Time at their house was full of jokes, Shane said — the likes of which he couldn’t share in public.
The Lances also were Hudson’s godparents.
“I wanted so badly to watch him grow, and walk, and talk,” Kayla Lance said. “And eat pizza.”
Days before the accident, they visited the family and asked if they needed anything.
“Just your eternal friendship,” Vanessa told them.
Josh’s sister, Jessica Ellis, had a request she shared with the crowd.
“When things begin to become quiet, and our lives begin to sink back into place, and we move forward, remember,” she said. “Remember to love well.”